Walking around the local pond, I wasn’t expecting much when I sat on a bench under a tree. So peaceful. Turtles slowly surface to pop up their heads for air, while their bodies stay submerged. Schools of tiny fish play near the surface, occasionally splashing the water with circular ripples left behind.
Then, the waterfowl arrive. And things get interesting.
First, I see a female mallard with two males following her. Oh, nature!
Then, three male mallards come toward me. They keep track of each other, and no one wanders away while eating. Then, they leave together – The Three Amigos.
The trio of mallards arrive and eat together
The trio leaves together
Next, an unexpected duo. In all my local still-water watching, I had never seen two different species of ducks swimming together as a pair. Two males. And my first time ever seeing a wood duck.
At first, the wood duck follows the mallard closely to the edge of the water. But while the mallard digs under submerged leaves, his companion stares.
The wood duck wanders away and comes back, then leaves again. He may eat when he is out of my line of vision, but he isn’t famished like the mallard who spends a lot of time with his head under the water.
Out of curiosity, I look into what these fellows eat and learn from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) that mallards are omnivores. I wonder if the wood duck is not hungry or if he has different tastes. The CLO says that the wood duck eats a largely plant-based diet, at least 80%. I see him occasionally dip his bill into the water, but he doesn’t immerse himself like the mallard.
When the wood duck leaves a second time, the mallard notices in about a minute and follows him around a bend to my left where the pond ends.
A few minutes pass.
Next, the wood duck swims alone at full speed. He passes in front of me and goes to my right. I take out my phone to capture his beeline as this looks like an escape, not the leisurely swimming he did earlier. Then, I hear an agitated, fast quacking to my left. It’s the mallard. He races after the wood duck.
For dramatic effect, I suggest playing the video below at double speed.
I don’t know how their story ends. I didn’t have the stamina to run over the uneven stone steps, hills and bends that make up the walking path around the pond to see what happens next.
But I do have some questions. Is it common for species with different diets to forage together? Where are all the female ducks?
And more specifically, was the wood duck just hungry and looking for some edible plants or was he ditching the mallard to swim solo forever?
Like soap operas I used to secretly watch after school in the ‘80s, this one ended on a cliff-hanger. Maybe next time I visit the pond, I’ll catch the next episode.
*All photographs and video by Karen M. Free taken in May 2022 in the Southeastern U.S. Featured image illustration is in the public domain.